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Great gourds - It's Community Festival time once again

Heaviest pumpkin contest draws 1,000-pound monsters
By: Michelle Miller-Carl Journal News Editor
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Pumpkins are getting pumped up. No, they’re not lifting weights and no, a doping scandal hasn’t been uncovered, but the orange gourds that appear at the annual Auburn Community Festival’s pumpkin contest just keep getting bigger and bigger. Last year’s winner Audrey Warren, 8, of Auburn, set a festival record with her 1,061-pound behemoth, breaking the previous record set in 2007 of 1002.5 pounds. But someone else may break that record yet again this year. “The record is going down as far I’m concerned,” said Randy Warren, Audrey’s dad and a local pumpkin guru who’s been keeping tabs on area growers. Although Warren said Audrey’s prospects were dashed this year when two of her pumpkins got mushy, he said he knows of a few other monster pumpkins from around the county that will be at Saturday’s festival. The festival’s heaviest pumpkin contest draws dozens of gourd growers hoping to cash in their crop for a $1,500 first prize. Growers get $500 more if their pumpkin happens to be the heaviest from Placer County. Young pumpkin growers can reap rewards, too, with a top prize of $200 for the largest gourd grown by the under-18 set. When they lift their pumpkins onto the scale Saturday – using a forklift, by the way - they’ll face scrutiny from Don Yamasaki, local gardening expert and radio host on KAHI 950AM. He’ll be inspecting the pumpkins for any cracks or openings that would disqualify them. If the pumpkin has two or more soft spots greater than 3 inches in diameter, it’s no good, he said. Predominantly green or blue coloring is considered a squash and not fit for the pumpkin contest, either. Saturday’s pumpkin weigh-off comes on the heels of a state record-setting pumpkin that won the 36th annual World Championship Pumpkin Weigh-Off in Half Moon Bay on Monday. Don Young of Des Moines, Iowa, claimed that honor with a 1,658-pound whopper. The out-of-state gourd set a new California weight record and garnered a $9,948 prize ($6 per pound). And earlier this month, perhaps the world’s heaviest pumpkin ever — 1,725 pounds — was recorded at a pumpkin-growing contest in Ohio. So where are all these monster pumpkins coming from? “I think it’s the genetics of the seeds. All these people buy their seeds from pumpkins that have grown or have parents that have grown extra heavy pumpkins, so more people are growing those,” Yamasaki said. “If you don’t use those seeds with the genes in it, you won’t have big chances to win.” Seeds from these hefty pumpkins are quite a business, Yamasaki said, with some fetching prices of around $200 each. But growing monster pumpkins isn’t normally a lucrative business, Warren said. “I spend a couple thousand a year (growing pumpkins) and during the season I spend hours during the week, after work, full days on weekends — we don’t go anyplace,” Warren said. “At best you come out even. But this is not a financial thing, this is not a casual thing, it’s a lifestyle.” Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at michellem@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- The 1,000-pound club Only three pumpkins have made it to Auburn’s 1,000-pound club — and they’ve all come in the last four years. These are the heaviest pumpkins ever weighed at the Auburn Community Festival: 1,061 pounds — Audrey Warren of Auburn (2008) 1,002.5 pounds — Eric Carlson of Portola Valley (2007) 1,001 pounds — Leonard Urena of Napa (2005) ---------- Auburn Community Festival What: Harvest festival with vendors, food, scarecrow contest, costume parade, live entertainment and more When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Where: Recreation Park, 123 Recreation Drive in Auburn Info: Visit auburncommunityfestival.com for information on contests or call (530) 885-8461